Aaron Cross has spent the past several weeks traveling to schools throughout Minnesota and other nearby states, sharing motivational messages with students and stressing the importance of setting and achieving goals. He spoke to students at Motley Elementary School Monday and planned to speak at Nisswa Elementary and Pine River-Backus Elementary schools Tuesday.
But Cross isn't all talk.
The 32-year-old St. Cloud man, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a bicycling accident when he was 15, hasn't let anything stop him from fulfilling his goals. Cross has accomplished more on wheels than most people ever accomplish on two legs. Almost one year to the day of his accident back in May 1991, Cross began participating in national and international wheelchair sporting events, including archery, wheelchair racing and quad rugby. He competed in the 1996 Paralympic Games where he set a world record in the ranking round and came in fourth overall in the archery competition. He's competed in the last nine World Championships and the last three Paralympic Games. He also trained and completed a U.S. Navy SEAL Adventure Challenge, the only person in a wheelchair ever to attempt and make it the full 24 hours. He and his teammates earned a bronze medal at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece, the first team medal for the U.S. Paralympic Archery Team. Cross retired from international archery competitions after that event.
Cross got married last summer to his wife, Katrina, who lives in England. He plans to move there in December. They met 14 years ago at the World Championships where he was competing in archery and she was a volunteer. The couple went to the Dominican Republic on their honeymoon. While he was going to snorkel and Katrina was going to scuba on their trip, it didn't work out because Cross got a head cold. However, after that trip Cross decided he wanted to become a certified scuba diver so he and his wife could scuba together on their next tropical vacation.
So Cross contacted the Minnesota School of Diving in Brainerd in order to take classes and become a certified open water scuba diver. He went through the same classes and training all other scuba divers must complete and passed all the tests in October. He underwent two open water dives in the Crosby mine pits the last week in October.
Cross said he is considered a "functional quadriplegic" because he has some but not full use of his hands. Back in 1991 he was competing in a bike race near Biwabik and was leading the pack when a support vehicle in front of the bicyclists suddenly stopped and Cross hit the back of the van on his bike at 38 mph. He broke his C1, C6 and C7 vertebrae. Before his accident, he had been in training to try out for the U.S. Olympic cycling team.
Bill Matthies, owner of Minnesota School of Diving who has been a scuba instructor for the past 49 years, said this was the first time that he's ever helped someone become certified who was quadriplegic. Through trial and error they learned that scuba fins were necessary for Cross to become stabilized in the water, though he doesn't have use of his legs.
"It's just been a terrific experience for all of us," Matthies said of helping Cross become certified. "There are things I wanted to help him with and I struggled because I wanted to help him but I couldn't."
While scuba diving can be challenging for anyone, the scuba equipment itself weighs about 70 pounds and making sure hoses and other equipment are in the right spot can be tricky, Cross passed and received his certification. Lori Mattson was his dive instructor.
"It's exciting because I know Katrina and I can go scuba dive together," said Cross. "I love being in the water. It was so much fun I can't wait to get back in the water again."
Cross said he now uses his scuba diving experience during his school presentations. During the past month, Cross has given more than 30 school presentations, including one at Riverside Elementary School in Brainerd. He has six presentations scheduled this week, four more in December and possibly eight more that will be added next month as well.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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